My guest is Pastor Jim Conrad of Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia. His church was, until recently, one of the only Southern Baptist churches that openly accepted and affirmed lesbian, gay, and transgender people. His church has been in the news since February because the Southern Baptist Convention, or SBC, voted to remove his church and another from Louisville, Kentucky, for taking their stand.
I read about the convention’s decision in a New York Times story by Ruth Graham last month, and it struck me that on the same day, the convention also disfellowshipped two churches for hiring pastors with a history of sexual assault. These four churches were all lumped in together and given equal weight in a statement by J.D. Greear, president of the convention, who bemoaned “fissures and failures and fleshly idolatries.”
This is grotesque and heartbreaking and completely unsurprising behavior by the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded to defend human slavery and has been on the wrong side of nearly every battle since. What did surprise me was the testimony of Pastor Conrad.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in South Carolina. I led Vacation Bible School groups, went on mission trips, and played electric guitar in the youth group praise band. I met some of my best friends and role models there.
But it’s also a place I had to leave behind as an adult because I found some of its teachings abhorrent. I still live in South Carolina, so I am always in the shadow of some Southern Baptist Church or another. The church is a community center, a cultural anchor, and it’s caused a lot of suffering for a lot of my friends over the years.
I’m part of a church that marches in the Pride Parade now. Growing up, I never thought I’d see this day. I never imagined I’d meet someone like Pastor Conrad either. As we’ll discuss in the interview, he didn’t think this was a fight he’d have to fight, until one day late in his career when he did. He made me think of that old hymn that goes, “If you tarry ‘til you’re better, you will never come at all.”
The episode art is “Baptism of Christ” (1931) by Vimos Aba-Novak.